I wanted to like "Terra," the debut animated feature from Snoot Entertainment and director Aristomenis Tsirbas.
In fact, I wanted to love it.
I respected "Terra," a visually beautiful film that takes us to the seemingly idyllic planet that we humans have called Terra, a planet inhabited by seemingly peaceful, tadpole-looking type creatures.
The story kicks off with the Terrans experiencing the coming of a massive something...it is at first perceived to be a God, then interpreted as a vicious invader.
In the first of Tsirbas' multiple modest twists, the vicious invader is, in fact, human beings.
"Terra" proceeds to explain how Earth was destroyed along with its surrounding planets. The remaining human beings have been floating through space and, just as their massive ship is running out of time, they have stumbled across Terra and, as human beings are prone to doing, they plan to invade it, dominate it, colonize it and save humanity.
Seems logical, eh? We're humans. Invading's what we do.
Of course, none of this would work if we didn't have characters with whom we could identify. In "Terra," these come courtesy of the rebellious young Terran Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) and for humanity in the form of Lieutenant Stanton (Luke Wilson). The invaders, remember that's us, abduct several Terrans for experiments including Mala's father and, rather vengefully, Mala has caused Lieutenant Stanton's ship to crash.
Of course, being a peaceful Terran, she ends up nursing him back to health through the guidance of the lieutenant's robotic campion, Giddy (David Cross).
As Mala and Stanton form a friendship, the film builds up to the inevitable conflict between humanity and the Terrans. Humanity, rather ironically led by a black president (Danny Glover), is railroaded by an egomaniacal military leader into direct confrontation with the Terrans which, of course, Mala and Stanton must decide the best path and, essentially, choose between peace and conflict, friendship and patriotism.
I wrestled with how to write this review for quite sometime, because while I didn't necessarily find myself enthralled by the film I did enjoy it and I certainly respected it. In an world of animation dominated by Pixar and Disney, it's hard not to deeply respect and appreciate quality, independent animation.
Rest assured, "Terra" is quality, independent animation.
While "Terra" is visually beautiful and contains some of the most hypnotic landscape imagery I've seen in an animated feature, it never completely gels. While "Wall-E" has proven that audiences will tolerate a slower, more thought provoking animated film, "Terra" tends to dip too frequently into preachiness and the characters themselves aren't particularly interesting.
Wall-E and Eva were cute. Mala is modestly interesting, but the humans in "Terra" look remarkably similar and not really all that human.
Perhaps what was most distracting in "Terra" is how remarkably similar it looked to the "Star Wars" films, including what felt like, at times, darn near identical recreations of pod fight scenes.
Despite the film's occasional dips into preachiness, there's no denying the timeliness of the film's message about peace, unity and the need to change paths before we destroy each other. "Terra" is a thought-provoking film about two worlds that will most likely destroy each other if they can't find a way to co-exist. While "Terra" is unlikely to have a strong appeal to younger children, fans of sci-fi and animation are likely to be enthralled by its sumptuous CG and universal themes.
Having premiered earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival, "Terra" is currently playing as a Crystal Heart Award winner at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. The film won the Grand Prize for Best Animated Feature at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic